#235 from R&D
Innovator Volume 5, Number 9
and Planning—It Sounds So Easy
Dr. Oettle is
principal of Oettle Consulting Services in Newark, Delaware,
solving management and communication problems for organizations
"I don't know for sure where I want to get to.
Cheshire cat: "Then it doesn't matter which road you
management experts use this undeniable truth to tell us we should
set goals and plan to establish our priorities. But if it's that easy, why do most of us have trouble getting
people tend to forget the value of goal setting, and of
planning their time; they forget the priorities they have set (and
why); they are constantly interrupted for other people's
priorities; they have multiple bosses to answer to; or they are
trapped by crisis management.
If you recognize any of these situations, I'll go over some
ideas to ponder and strategies to try.
instinctively set goals, but tend to do so in such a way that the
goals are of no help. For
instance, "I want to be successful,” "be happy,
"be famous," and so on.
Who could argue with those goals?
But at the same time, what guidance do they give for
detailed planning? They
are too general. Specific
goal setters feel a sense of control and mastery of their fate,
which helps them deal with the stresses of daily life.
Those without goals--or goals that are too general--tend to
feel like victims of life.
Along with the
psychological benefits, there is practical value to goals.
We all want to be successful, which means we have to know
how we're doing. With
specific goals, we can focus on results instead of process.
We all have to decide what to do and when to do it.
Without specific goals, it's impossible to prioritize.
Two questions are
at the heart of setting priorities: which task or project has the
greatest potential to advance my career, and which do I enjoy
most? The career
advancement issue is fairly straightforward, but why worry about
what I enjoy doing? Because
that's what motivates us. If
you spend all your time doing what other people want you to do,
the question is not if you will burn out, it's when
you'll burn out. Put
something you enjoy on your daily activity list, even if you can
only give it 30 minutes. You
will be able to say, "I chose to do that because I know it
makes a difference"—and that seems to be enough to keep
your interest in the job alive.
Imagine you were
asked to head a committee to plan the annual family picnic, a
morale booster, for your organization.
It's the committee's first meeting, and someone mentions
sort of plans might you generate to handle the possibility of rain
on the day of the picnic? You
can think of four or five options right off the top of your head.
What if no one
mentions rain during the planning process, and it's the day before
the picnic, and you turn on the news: "100% chance of rain
those four or five options you had, how many are still feasible?
Worse yet, imagine that you never turned on the news.
It begins to rain as you’re driving to the picnic.
How many viable options do you now have?
(You decide to look foolish: "We never thought of
rain," or hope nobody remembers you were in charge of the
picnic committee.) The
most common internal argument against planning and goal setting is
a sense of uncertainty about the future; but planning and goal
setting provide our only chance to affect the future.
requires doing the right things at the right time.
Time management texts describe a variety of techniques for
prioritizing goals, such as comparing tasks against each other,
considering the deadline and payoff for each task, comparing
pay-off with time of investment for each task, and my personal
favorite, the importance and urgency grid.
Some methods, however, are so detailed that prioritizing
can, itself, become a major time consumer.
constantly interrupted for other people's priorities, you will
have to find strategies to change that situation because the
people interrupting you see no need to change it!
negotiating specific times to be available and to be left alone,
try maintaining your work posture when you are approached by
someone who wants to interrupt.
Most of us are instinctively welcoming.
Instead, try moving nothing but your head and saying
something like, "How may I help you."
This keeps the decision in your hands until you know what
the person wants; then you can decide if it's also a priority for
What if it's not
a priority for you at that moment?
Learn to say, "no" by saying, "yes,
but...." Even if
it's a priority, "closure" skills can help things along.
Try saying, "May I ask one more question
before...?" or "Is there anything else I can do?"
or "So, to summarize, you will... and I will...."
All imply that we are about finished.
With More Than One Boss
What if you have
multiple bosses? One
valid, but often overlooked, use of time is to build better
working relationships with other members of your team, including
your bosses. In any modern business, people have to work in a mutually
supportive way to achieve organizational success. Time invested in relationships pays off in increased quality
It helps to
understand your bosses’ goals, their styles of operation, and
how they like to use time. Some
people focus on the present and the objective.
Their responses will be swift, efficient, and to the point. Other people focus on their vision of the future.
They come across as quick, "stream of
consciousness" talkers, and flexible.
People who focus on what is happening and the effect of
others on them, respond in a slow, relationship-oriented
"social" way. Many
in the research environment consider themselves
"analytical," and they are more likely to focus on facts
and history, responding in a deliberate, disciplined, and
The more you can
incorporate all your bosses and their needs into your usual
planning routine, the more efficiently you will be able to
function; however, conflicts will still arise.
Many multiple-boss problems result from being given
responsibility without sufficient authority.
Try asking your bosses to work out, among themselves, which
work should come first, or ask for enough authority to set
priorities on your own. Let
them know you can be much more productive if you don't have to
communicate with all of them every time a potential change comes
If you get a
general, prioritized job description (or list of duties), you can
use this list as a justification for your priority decisions when
conflicts arise. Another
approach is to submit your prioritized weekly plan to all of your
bosses regularly, with the understanding that if they have
objections to your priorities, they will promptly let you know.
This way, if someone initially doesn't object and then
comes to you later in the week with a demand, you can use your
submitted plan as a bargaining tool.
When one of your
bosses makes a last-minute request, show them your weekly plan.
After seeing written evidence of the tasks you had
scheduled, the boss who presented the immediate request is more
likely to help you by directly working out the issue with the
Ask for specific
deadlines, or offer your own specific deadlines.
When deadlines conflict, communicate.
Ask your line manager (real boss) for help in deciding
fear of saying "no" creates a problem because people
make unintended commitments
by saying things like "I'll try.
is perhaps the biggest single barrier to planning and
cause of the crisis defines the options for dealing with it.
Keep a crisis log to learn where they come from.
If your crises are all true emergencies, deal with them by
making plans for realistic eventualities and getting on with the
job. (No need to look
for trouble; it will find you.)
If your crisis is
caused by a colleague's crisis or working style, the two of you
need to get together and negotiate.
If it's a customer or client's problem, you can ask about
their real needs, and negotiate a response deadline.
Crises caused by routine business cycles are best dealt
with by remembering those cycles during budget or resource
planning aren't easy. But
being a passive victim of life's changes and practical realities
isn't easy, either. Time
spent using these tools will increase productivity and quality,
helping yourself and your organization.